A total of 20 firefighters from the Sylacauga Fire Department and Sycamore, Oak Grove, Renfroe, West Shelby and Hollins volunteer fire departments participated in Mobile Water Supply certification, a 16-hour course hosted by the Sylacauga Fire Department and instructed by the Alabama Fire College. The training teaches tactics and solutions to haul water to a fire scene when another water source is not available.
“These skills are applicable when you don’t have a fire hydrant close enough to lay in with hose and you have to bring in tankers, typically when you’re in a rural area,” Sylacauga Fire Chief Matt Missildine said Friday. “These tactics were used in the fire at The Sanctuary last year, and also during the fire at Avondale Mills.”
To accommodate the volunteer schedules, the course was held Wednesday and Thursday nights and culminated Saturday with an exam and a practical application of the training in the former Food World parking lot.
“What people will be seeing in the parking lot is a simulated two-lane road with a fill site and a dump site,” Missildine explained. “Tankers will be pulling into the fill site and being filled by a fire engine, and this is something you have to do as fast as you can. Then, the tankers will drive around and pull into the dump site where they will expel the water. We will probably be using about 50,000 gallons of water, and we especially want to thank the Sylacauga Utilities Board for their cooperation with this training."
While the procedure sounds simple enough, there is much to consider when in a real-life emergency, Missildine said.
“A really important part of the class is learning how to size up how much water you need to be able to bring in and estimate the number of tankers it’s going to take to do that,” he said. “For example, if you know you need a flow of 400 gallons per minute, and you’ve got 2,000-gallon tankers, then you need a tanker arriving every five minutes to contain the fire. It’s teaching them a more educated and effective approach to hauling the water in.”
As Missildine stated, mobile water supply procedures have played an important part in at least two recent fire suppression efforts in Sylacauga that both resulted in a safe extinction of the fire and no injuries. The first incident was the Avondale Mills inferno in June 2011, where 14 fire departments responded and firemen spent nearly seven hours actively battling the flames with the assistance of mobile tankers. More than 1 million gallons of water was used in only the first 4 hours. In June of last year, a fire in the kitchen at The Sanctuary, located off U.S. 280 East, required tankers and assistance from about eight fire departments.
Understanding mobile supply procedures, and acquainting themselves with neighboring fire departments and their equipment, is essential to a successful response as firemen frequently rely on each other for support, Missildine said.
“This particular course is a certification-level class that you only have to do once, but one thing we’re pushing for is the need for ongoing training,” he said. “We always need to be familiar with other departments and know how to use their equipment in order to get a situation under control as quickly and safely as possible, and this week has helped us prepare for that.”